A recent survey commissioned by North Dakota United reveals that the spread of COVID-19 is fueling an increasing concern among teachers across the state, and a significant number, or 37%, of K-12 educators have considered or are considering leaving or retiring early from the teaching profession.

North Dakota United, which has 11,500 members, including teachers and other public employees, engaged DFM Research, a political and marketing consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn., to survey its K-12 educator-members in August, September and October.

The goal was to gauge educators’ level of comfort in teaching and providing support services during the current coronavirus pandemic.

The latest survey, conducted late last month, reveals a noticeable shift in views regarding COVID-19 mitigation efforts, according to a news release from North Dakota United.

Among results of the Oct. 27-28 survey of 756 teachers, data show that 86% of respondents favored a mask mandate in the classroom, an increase from the 73% who said “yes” in the September survey. The 13 percentage point shift is prevalent in most questions relating to COVID, North Dakota United said in the release.

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The latest survey also revealed a shift in attitude regarding the use of face masks.

In the September survey, respondents in eastern North Dakota cities strongly supported a school mask mandate, but the rest of the state was not yet at the same level. The October survey revealed that western cities’ and rural communities’ members fully support a mask mandate in schools.

Support for a mask mandate is not limited to schools, according to the survey. The October data show 80% of members also support a mandate in their communities.

Other findings from the recent survey show that two-thirds of K-12 teachers believe state leaders have not gone far enough to combat COVID-19 -- a view held among members in every corner of the state. That 67% is nine points higher than results of the September survey.

Survey findings also show that slightly more than 50% of K-12 teachers are committed to remaining in the classroom. A total of 37% of members are still considering leaving the profession.

A total of 79% of teachers said they “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” with the statement, “I’m concerned about my health and contracting COVDI-19,” the recent survey indicates. This compares with 74% in those categories in the September survey.

Nearly all, or 95%, of respondents said there has been a confirmed case of COVID-19 in their school. This figure was 67% in the September survey. But 58% said the school district followed the plan or protocols for dealing with the COVID-19 infection -- compared to 68% in September.

Overall, the October survey of K-12 educator-members confirms evidence of a noticeable increase in concern regarding COVID in the classroom and the community, with members -- regardless of where they teach or partisan views -- strongly favoring additional steps to ensure school and the community are safe, the survey concluded, according to North Dakota United.

“No one wants schools to return to full-time, face-to-face learning more than teachers,” Nick Archuleta, president of North Dakota United said in the news release. “But our members also know that we cannot do so until it is safe to do so. Right now -- and our polling bears this out -- teachers and education support professionals across the state, regardless of their political affiliation or the size of their communities, are steadfast in their support for strong action being taken by state leaders to mitigate the spread of this insidious virus.”